Thursday, July 31, 2008

Going Tubular Across Continents

I'm still frozen in a hermetically sealed tube, hurtling through space.

I arrived back home in the Great Northwest, which, btw, had just endured/enjoyed pelting rain, less than 24 hours ago. Traveling 28 hours non-stop (does a three-hour layover and two hours on the tarmac at JFK count as a stop?) is probably the closest a being with a heart-beat comes to The Big Sleep. Thankfully, I was granted every intercontinental jet-setter's dream space, literally: business class. That meant that El Al provided me a nearly-flat seat in which to float in undefined time-space for twelve hours of twilight. Almost like sedation with trips to the bathroom.

However, once I arrived home, I did upload my photos. Haven't looked at them yet, but given that my entire trip to Israel of two years ago--all 1368 photos of it--were lost to a corrupt photo card, I was compelled even in my stupor to upload. To three computers. And back it up on my external hard drive.

Then, I tried to sleep for the first time since Jerusalem in my own bed. All I could do was lie there and think, "the last time I was truly horizontal was in the City of David." Or such. And of course, I woke up a couple hours later trying to figure out exactly which direction the bathroom was in.

I was pleasantly surprised, however, when, two hours afterward in the daylight, I looked over to see the large display on my digital clock-radio. In Israel, hotel rooms do not have any clocks. And, given that I left for my trip without a wristwatch, I'd spent ten days wondering if I was late. Or, what time it was. So used to relying on my cell-phone for the hour, I stupidly neglected to revert to the time-piece that used to reside where I now display wardrobe-coordinated bracelets. The angst of asking my husband for the time prevailed as my fear of irritating him grew with each request. Finally, I succumbed to watching others in our group, fox-like, for signs that we should hurry back to the bus. And I learned new flexibilities in order to read the watch on my husband's wrist while he slept.

The return flight, bereft of marked minutes or miles, was an experience of surrealism that undoubtedly is reflected in the dizziness of my present prose. I do hope my orientation improves, just as I look forward to improvement of another Israeli souvenir I unintentionally acquired, of the intestinal variety. Not a pretty picture, hurtling through space with a bacterial buddy.

Still, (though not for long) I must marvel at the bizarre yet miraculous ability, to go tubular from one continent to another halfway across the world in a single bound (okay, a couple single bounds--but the Superman allusion is apt). I am constantly amazed that we can not only FLY, but zip at 35,000 feet, high above the clouds. And I hope to share with you some of the other lofty events and anecdotes of the Holy Land, once I find my way down to earth and, ahem, to the bathroom...

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Off to Israel

Well, I should be packing. As in, cramming enough for nine days into as small a suitcase as I can, lest I pay more than necessary for airline baggage charges. You see, we're off to Israel.

This is the fourth annual tour that I'll be, um, "taking" to the Holy Land, and what I mean by that is that I'm accompanying the big draw for a group of 200 fans. Given that we have family
in Jerusalem, and that my daughter spent a year in seminary there, over the past four years I've made this journey six times. Eight times in all.

Still, when you approach the kotel, the Western wall surrounding the Temple
Mount, the ruach, spirituality, is palpable. All the headlines about danger lurking everywhere dissolve into normal days of touring and visiting family, whose daily routine differs little from ours at home. Jerusalem is a relatively small city, in a teensy country, and floating in the Dead Sea, climbing the scorched paths in Masada, peering out the air-conditioned bus windows at date palms and irrigated fields and sandy stretches has a special wonder to it, because this is the land of our forefathers, the land God chose as the microcosm of everywhere.

So, I won't be adding to my blog while away. I don't check email; I don't travel with a laptop. The days are action-packed and people-rich, and somehow when you tread ruins thousands of years old, the urgency of the Internet is less potent, and the importance of living and surviving--in a desert, as a people, and as a nation, become paramount.

We'll be traveling for 27 hours to get there, on a Jewish fast day (17th of Tammuz) so this should be interesting. I plan to stay up all night tonight on last
minute laundry, folding and cramming, so that I can spend most of my non-imbibing hours asleep. There's always that pre-journey mix of excitement and reluctance that I feel now, but I'm readying my camera and spare batteries and plan to return with some fascinating stories to tell. In the meantime, enjoy the sweet luxuries of summer...

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Studs, Sluts and letting boys be boys

Once again my fave section of the newspaper--the Sunday Style section of the New York Times--has provided fodder for comment. A book review by Liesl Schillinger (love the name--always brings back "Sound of Music") of two books about male-female differences plays beautifully into the non-fiction project I'm presently writing.

She reviews Kathleen Parker's Save the Males, which laments how women's conflicting messages of "seduce me!" and "respect me!" are throwing men for such a loop they've "lost their moral compass." Then she addresses "third wave" feminist Jessica Valenti's He's a Stud, She's a Slut and 49
Other Double Standards every Woman Should Know. "Third wave feminists," in case you're wondering, followed the first, who "got women the vote" and the second, who "got them employed and divorced," and now, in this wave, "are busy making women porn stars". Yes. Porn stars. I can't even pretend to understand that, but in an interview, Valenti admits that she, too, doesn't understand what she means when she calls herself "third wave." Kowabunga!

Ms. Valenti points out that her 50 nasty double standards "punish female assertiveness," a quality she deems good. But after looking at her list of double standards as well as two YouTube videos in which she talks about her ideas, I have to say that she basically re-packages ONE unarguably unfair double standard into fifty wafer-thin slices: the one about sex that's on the cover--that men who want sex are manly, and women who pursue sex are trashy. Why does this stereotype persist after all those waves of feminism? After Gloria Steinem
and Betty Friedan and Margaret Sanger and Hillary Clinton, women in sexual pursuit remain disdained, while men who chase the chicks are not.

The answer's very simple, and both authors, Kathleen Parker and Jessica Valenti, not only know it, but write their books about it: Men and women are different. The genders are biologically, psychologically, behaviorally divergent. Ms. Parker doesn't like what this fact does to men; Ms. Valenti doesn't like what it does to women.

K'vetch, k'vetch, k'vetch.

Reality can be tough to accept. The lament in Kathleen Parker's book is that the Jessica Valentis of the world won't let men be themselves. And Valenti's work shouts that she doesn't want women to be themselves, either, if it means they're less aggressive and less sexually-driven than men (as all psychological and brain research shows). You'd think the real third wave of feminism, if defined correctly, would acknowledge the scads of studies and daily evidence of everyone's eyes and just decide how to make the most of it. But nooooo, it's far more fun to complain.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

"Mama Mia!" a Boomer's Second Wind

It's tough being a Boomer. Used to being on the leading edge of American culture, Boomers are now falling off onto the slope to...death. Not a pretty picture.

That's why the theater was jammed last night for an advance screening of the successful Broadway play that reprises Abba's greatest hits, "Mama Mia!": boomers embrace its message that "we're not dead yet!" Like the bouncy Meryl Streep, who clearly fol
lows Jane Fonda's active example, there's a lot of life left in this generation. And a lot of folks who like seeing divas sing vintage 80s music--notably the half the audience that appeared to And, as an article I was reading in (I think it was) the Wall Street Journal pointed out, Boomer ladies and gay guys together can make a movie profitable. In fact, after the success of "Sex and the City," director Phyllida Lloyd went back, added an extra $1 million to the budget, and shot disco music video footage that was tacked onto the film's end.

I don't think, however, that the fashionistas who saw "Sex and the City" will flock to this offering, even though it's positioned to be a feel-good romp. It IS that, set in a fantasy-island in Greece where sometimes-hilarious musical numbers insert themselves with the choral support of peasants, fishermen and
swim-fin-clad beach boys. The story is about an engaged 20-year-old daughter (Amanda Seyfried) raised by her single mom (Streep) who, through snooping, narrows down to three the men who might be her dad. She invites them all to her wedding, hoping to identify her real father, to the shock of Mom and her two equally agile sidekicks (Julie Walters and Christine Baransky).

Those hip young things who boosted SATC to the stratosphere were disappointed with its twisting of their beloved TV characters into tame shadows of their snickeringly naughty selves. They won't like that there's nothing sleek or sophisticated about "Mama Mia!" And while those who accompanied me to last night's screening were more enthralled than I was, I just couldn't escape the downer of Streep and
friends' over-the-top physical gyrating that constantly screamed, "I may be old, but watch me jump!"

How high? High enough to offer snazzy non-traditional messages, like "yeah, I was part of the sexual revolution and had sex with three guys in a row!" Or "I am a feminist who caulks concrete cracks, solders window hinges and employs fifty servants in my own hotel!" And "It's OK to forget marriage and run off to explore the world with your boyfriend!"

But of course, if you want logic or cohesion in your story, this is not your movie. In a sense, the lack of sense or background is what lets viewers go with the flow and laugh when sudden songs with wild choreography pop up. After all, the whole p
lot is merely a vehicle for Abba's Greatest Hits. And that's often enough: a sentimental musical exchange between mother and daughter will slaughter any parent, and the familiarity of the other rhythmic tunes will inspire taking out the iPod for some aerobic celebrating.

Perhaps if I were on the other end of this generational tale, I wouldn't find it subtly depressing, as I do. I remember my own world jaunting, and the Greece of this film was one of my favorite destinations--I wandered the isles on three trips, even sleeping in a teensy supplies storeroom on the unpopulated side of Naxos one time, when all the hotels there were full. The truth is, youth is great; the wisdom of age is over-rated. At least "Mama Mia!" effectively and happily lies, a pleasant escape to azure waters and the years of Abba.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A Wedding, and a Sidewalk Encounter

The Wedding
It's wedding season, and on Friday evening we were thrilled to attend the wedding of a girl, now 22, who we've watched grow into a lovely young woman, since we met her when she was 11. Shortly after we moved to he northwest, her parents, who listened avidly to talk radio and home-schooled the two kids, sent us a wonderful letter, and the bride and her brother made personalized bookmarks for our kids. We were mutually smitten once we got together, and the click between us--despite our religious difference, has remained.

We don't go to many Christian weddings, but the sincerity and celebration in this one was beautiful. The couple, both deeply and actively religious, began their wedding with worship, and many, including the bride, sang with arms raised. The pastor's comments and the couple's interaction were both sweet and inspiring, and when, after saving the momentous act for their joining at the altar, the new husband and wife kissed--he leaning her backward--the throng cheered.

For Jews, the wedding is rather prescribed, according to ancient custom--and takes about ten minutes. By contrast, with videos of the bride and groom growing up, their engagement and coupling, as well as communion, signing documents, lighting of lantern candles throughout the church and personally "dismissing" each guest with a hug and happy words, this ceremony lasted more than an hour. Jews tend to go crazy, however, at the reception, dancing with such wild ecstasy (men and women separately) and eating and drinking, followed by "schtick" and more frenzied dancing until guests are drenched in perspiration--that the relatively brief nuptials become merely the prelude. While this Christian celebration was wonderfully joyous and sentimental, the refined meal, toasts and few traditional dances (bridal couple; dad with bride, etc.) were high on fellowship rather than perspiration.

The Encounter
Because the wedding ran into Shabbat, we stayed at a hotel about a mile away, walking back about 11:30 p.m. To get there, we passed through a less-than-savory stretch, and a "Jewish vagrant" who spied yarmulkes latched onto us, accosting us for blocks and blocks, insisting it was our duty to find an ATM and give him $20. Rather than engage him to respond that any observant Jew doesn't touch money on the Sabbath, we tried to ignore him, but he became more and more surly and finally, before leaving, told us "There's a special place in hell where you'll burn for not helping your fellow Jew!"

It was only one block further when my husband missed his step on the uneven sidewalk and took a nasty tumble, emerging bloodied on his hands, arms and legs, barely able to hobble the block further to our hotel. Lots of washing, ice, antiseptic and bandages cleaned him up, though he was in pain and still bleeding through the night--it was only once we got home after the Sabbath that he could properly address his wounds. Thankfully, they seem to be minor.

The Moral of the Story
We so enjoyed the beautiful evening with the breathtaking bride, her new husband and her family, whom we love dearly. Not even my husband's up-close-and-personal meeting with the sidewalk, or the verbal assault of a homeless guy could diminish the event. And the next day, when we heard of the passing of Tony Snow, someone my husband had known and respected, we realized again, how fortunate we are to be alive and well; how blessed and privileged, and how precious and momentous each day can be.

Mazel tov, and a life of love and happiness to you, Laura and Ben! We love you, Dale, Deb and Brett!

Friday, July 11, 2008

Summertime--and the Liberals are Easy

Finally it's summer and I'm almost nervous about being this giddy. When the sun pours into my kitchen, and I can wear flip flops instead of boots, I'm already cheery, but these last few luxious days have been the best. Lying outside reading, listening to my favorite talk-radio show, a home-made cherry Italian soda by my side, is deliciously decadent.

The weekly fairs and festivals tumble one after the other (I blogged about many of them last year) and this weekend is
our community's homey celebration, complete with a parade, boat rides around our island, and fireworks, none of which I (ever) get to enjoy, as they're on Shabbat. But on Sunday I look forward to once again greeting my fave artisans, in their white plastic booths lining a closed-off street in our little "downtown," and strolling among the polished Chevys on the car show's row. Then I'll head over to another neighborhood for their even funkier festival.

And tonight, with my son, I enjoyed another summer tradition: Shakespeare in the park. The outdoor stage nestled in a ravine allows for hillside seating on the lawn, and this year the Wooden O Theatre group put on Romeo and Juliet. Like many such productions around the country, the classic dialog comes with a twist--mod costumes, innovative sets, unexpected effects.

We certainly didn't expect the twisted message that my 15-year-old son found distractingly embedded in this rendering of the Bard's drama: that the US and Iraq are two needlessly feuding "families" whose enmity, like the Montagues' and the Capulets', ends in tragedy. The Montagues wore camouflage with "UN"
armbands, blue berets and bayonets. The Capulets, in my son's words, wore "traditional Arab robes" and carried knives. The story began and ended with air raid sirens reminiscent of World War II newsreels. Other than that, we got the familiar soliloquies, poisonings, stabbings and what-have-you. I found the acting superb, the experience on the lawn glorious, and the message a reminder that we live, after all, in waaay liberal Seattle.

Okay, I'll conclude with another quick anecdote. The other day, a chipper college-age young woman with a clipboard rang my doorbell. As I opened, she smiled: "I'm here for change! We all want our country to be better and I'm collecting for Barack Obama!" I chuckled.

"Sorry, but I'm not for Barack Obama!" I smiled back.

Her face fell. "What?" she asked, clearly never having confronted such a response.

"I'm not for Barack Obama," I repeated, still grinning amiably.

"You mean--" she puzzled, "You mean," she stammered. "You mean--you're a Republican?"

"Yes," I replied.

Her eyes still wide with incredulity, she stood there a beat. "Well, then," she pondered aloud, "I'm sorry." And she turned and walked away. No attempt to engage me; no literature left at my feet. And now I'm sure our house is marked on her list of addresses with a scarlet "R."

Have a great summer!

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Identifying with "Kit": Not the Girls paying $10 to see her

A post-script regarding Kit Kittredge: My husband showed me an irksome article in our local paper (reprinted from the Washington Post) by Jennifer Frey. "Long-Ago themes of 'Kit' especially relevant today," blared the headline. It suggested that the 'tweens watching Kit suffer through the depression selling eggs and wearing feed-bag dresses will identify, because of our current housing slump and slight downturn.


The national foreclosure rate, according to an MSNBC article of Feb. 26, 2008 (whose purpose was to express shock at the astounding raise in foreclosures) was one filing for every 534 homes
. In the movie, Kit watches in horror as her classmate's furniture is carried from the house next door, a stuffed monkey still smiling from the child's neatly-made bed. Do you really think that kids who pay $10 to see this film know anyone whose furniture is sold out from under them? Who watch in horror when a "foreclosure" sign is hammered on their lawns?

The Hobo Jungle scene, as the Post article points out, includes a voice-over with the message, "we're all a few strokes of bad luck away from being in the same situation ourselves."

Now, we certainly should remember how very fortunate we are to live in this wonderful country, but not because "bad luck" can land us in such a benevolent Hobo Jungle as the "Kittredge" characters endorse. But we need to remember that "bad luck" often involves lack of industriousness, and that even when "luck" is cruel, we, in this nation, have the opportunity to re-invent ourselves, or at least, to get a job at a local Starbucks or Hollywood Video, look on Craigslist for an apartment to share, and not have to EVER live in a hobo jungle.

Admittedly, with gasoline at nearly $4.50 a gallon (actually it IS that high a few blocks from my home), people do feel a bit pinched. But they're still going to movies, still eating out, still paying their mortgages. I don't understand why liberal journalists feel so compelled to stretch even reviews of stories for little girls into "sky-is-falling" digs at the current government. Thankfully, the kids who see Kit Kittridge probably will recognize the story as long ago and far away, and identify only with the gumption of the girl and not the propaganda of the film-maker.

My Fourth of July

The fourth of July has always been my favorite holiday, mainly because it's in the beginning of the summer, with all those lolling, luscious days left to anticipate. Since moving here to the northwest, it's even more coveted as July 4 is known as the first day of summer, the day after which we deign to get some sunshine. Well, it hasn't happened yet--today is solidly overcast and dreary--but that didn't dim my thrill watching the fireworks from my own patio on Friday night.

This year, as July 4 fell on Shabbat, I felt I wasn't
going to get much of a celebration. Usually we attend some fun event as a family--often the big party given by a radio station--or at least go to our nearby park, crowded with jolly revelers picnicking in anticipation of the big fireworks display choreographed to a performance by the local symphony orchestra. It's true, I lost that, as I had to spend the day, as I do most every Friday, cooking in preparation for Shabbat. We planned to have guests both Friday night and Saturday for lunch, and of course that means planning, shopping, and cooking the entire day before. If I don't get my challah up by mid-day, then it won't rise to my satisfaction and become the yummy doughy confection my guests expect. There's nothing like delicious challah, fresh out of the oven, on a Friday night.

At least I'd celebrated the night before, when we'd gone with dear friends to the traditional July THIRD fireworks at the Norwegian fijord port of Poulsbo. To get there, you have to take a ferry, and the wait in line to board was about an hour and a half, which made the anticipation of our fireworks all the more intense. When, at 10:30 pm, the sky lit up with those ever-more-creative displays, we were delighted. And by night's end, zonked.

So on Shabbat, which begins just before sundown, we were ready to start our meal just as the unanticipated happened--in addition to the fireworks illuminating the horizon shot off by families and municipalities near and far (and, being mostly far, appearing as miniature color-bursts), a town just across the lake began a magnificent show. My dear friend and I stood on the deck singing "Stars and
Stripes Forever" as brilliant displays kept blooming and dripping and exploding before us. I was enraptured!

Unfortunately, my children were...hungry. They kept interrupting my joy to urge me to come in to say kiddush (the blessing over the wine that starts the Sabbath meal) so they could get some of that warm challah. No. No, I wasn't about to give up something that thrilled me! I stood and gaped. I wouldn't budge, as each daughter came and took me by the arm; as my son put his arm on my shoulder to steer me inside. No. No!! This was too wonderful, and right on my doorstep!

Then my husband came out and with his stern, paternal insistence, told me to
come in. Am I a doormat? I just gave up my entire July 4th to make their food (spurned when I asked for help by the very children trying to stop my fun). But, unable to stand against their rudeness, I went in, turning toward the window as we sang "Shalom Aleichem" to welcome the Shabbat angels (who, I'm sure, were oogling the fireworks) and Ayches Chayil (which supposedly honors the woman of the house--HA!) and kiddush. And my husband allowed me (!) to watch the fireworks while the others ritually washed for motzi (elevating the eating of the bread)....and once I took that (admittedly luscious) bite of challah, I turned to watch (through the window) the most spectacular "grand finale" you could imagine, with a least a dozen bursting color-flowers in the sky, over fountains of stars shooting from the barge in the lake. Oooooooh, Happy Birthday, United States!! Aren't we the luckiest people in the WORLD!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Kit Kittredge:" An American Deception

My two little girls, now in college, used to read those American Girl books with their white shiny covers featuring snapshots of 'tweens in various decades of American history. I never bought my daughters the overpriced collector's dolls, dressed in period costumes, though the one who accompanied me tonight to a screening of "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl" revealed to me my cruelty in the face of her friends' displays.

Kit (Abigail Breslin) and her parents plunge from upper-crust existence into poverty in 1934 when the depression busts the dad's (Chris O'Donnell) car dealership and forces him to leave their Cincinnati home to find work in Chicago. To pay the mortgage, Mom (Julia Ormond) takes in an assortment of boarders, including a magician, husband-hungry dance instructor, mobile librarian and a down-and-out classmate of Kit's, with his fussy mom. She takes pity on a teen and his quite-young sidekick who live in the community's "Hobo Jungle" by the railroad tracks. This motley crew, plus a few plucky friends of Kit's, populate a film punctuated by thievery, deception and the kids' miraculous solving of the who-done-it. It's no spoiler to say the film's loose ends get neatly tied in a single scene at the end.

Director Patricia Rozema has pulled together some sweetly evocative sets, costumes and scen
es (the movie was shot in Toronto), though it's easy for adults to spot several distracting anachronisms that the target audience will miss. Much more disturbing, however, are some of the messages implicit in the movie.

First off, by 1934, unemployment had leveled off, after a peak of almost 25% the year before. That's one out of four otherwise employable adults out of work, at the depression's worst. The movie implies that few held onto their jobs, and that those who did--including the banker who puts foreclosure signs in Kit's neighborhood front lawns--became snickering denigrators of those whose fortunes were lost. A soup kitchen scene attempts to show a kinder side, though we have no clue who sponsors it, and when Kit's school class is given an assignment to volunteer there one night, she's shocked by the variety of clientèle. An aside: while the depression was certainly devastating, FDR's New Deal attempts to end it exacerbated the damage and hampered the recovery
(as well-documented by Amity Shlaes in The Forgotten Man).

A second inaccuracy is the complete lack of any type of religious reference, even as Americans turned to religion as solace in a difficult time. There's not even a g
limpse of a church during a street scene, and not a single character ever murmurs even a word that could be taken as a thought toward the transcendental. By calling Kit "An American Girl," and placing her in Cincinnati, one might expect at least a passing nod to a centerpiece of life at the time.

In addition, the hobo encampment is shown via Kit's journalistic "investigation" to be a place of respectable people behaving only with honesty and goodwill. Perhaps at the time such upstanding tent cities existed, but the implication for modern viewers is that the homeless sleeping in shop doorways or populating cardboard lean-tos under freeways are somehow equivalent and honorable--rather than being mentally ill or alcoholics spurning shelters and assistance programs available to them. This is a misleading message for youngsters, almost the opposite of the "don't talk to strangers" safety rules we want them to internalize.

But this isn't a history lesson, it's a 9-year-old girl's perspective, and the film does address the hurt of her father's absence, and the indignities she turns into fun, in true Pollyanna style. There's also a touch of Nancy Drew as Kit, hoping to hit print in the Cincinnati Register, uses her field notes about crimes to help her figure out, far
too easily, what the law enforcement offices of several cities can't. On the surface, it's a clean, family-oriented and enjoyable plot, but those deceptive underlying lessons are troubling.

And it's a bit ironic that a movie about poverty and the Great Depression is being hyped with so much expensive stuff for little fans to buy. I'm kinda glad my two girls only got the books.